Helen, Georgia is a fascinating and beautiful place and a real tribute to creativity in tourism initiatives. With a population of around 500, Helen is the third most visited city in all of Georgia. Helen was a dying lumber town in January of 1969 when three local businessmen met to discuss the future of their town. They wondered how they could attract tourism to the area, and thought maybe if they spruced up Main Street a bit, they might entice people to stop for a night or a meal on their way to or from the mountains. One of these men contacted John Kollock, an artist whose family had roots in the region. They asked John if he could make a few sketches and suggest a good direction for the town. John looked at the town, nestled in a beautiful mountain valley, and it reminded him of Bavarian towns he had seen in Germany during his time in the service. His sketches were well received and by that fall, the town had a new facade. Tourists started to come, and have kept coming. Today, over three million people visit Helen every year, so I’d say tourism is working for them. There is plenty of normal tourist trap hullabaloo around town, but some really beautiful buildings as well. Heck, even the Huddle House looks like it fell out of a Fairy Tale. You can get a pretty decent German meal, and definitely a Liter of good German beer. I really loved seeing this place sprucing up for Christmas and my camera loved it as well. I thought I was going to make this a quick stop and ended up there for hours. Helen is a charming little town, well worth a detour. I’m glad I visited. I hope you enjoy these photos from Helen!
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As I made my way into Bluegrass State, I asked all of my Facebook friends what thoughts came to mind when someone mentioned the word “Kentucky”. Some things, like bourbon, bluegrass, fried chicken and horse racing come quickly to mind, but some people went deeper and came up with things I hadn’t even considered – like the fact that every Corvette in the world rolls out of a factory in Bowling Green or that Kit Carson was a Kentuckian. I even had one friend from Europe who said quite honestly that he didn’t think much about it at all – that it was just another boring state in Middle America. For my part, I had an amazing month in the Bluegrass State, learned a lot about Kentucky history and culture and met some wonderful people along the way. While I have moved on into Georgia at this point, I wanted to write one final post wrapping things up from Kentucky.
I’ve spent a decent amount of time in Coal Country in the last year and it is an area of the country that fascinates me. This region of Appalachia that stretches from far southeast Ohio down to the Carolinas and the very far north of Georgia is full of rich history and tradition. The mountains are majestic and the woods are full of game and recreation opportunities. Families that live there have often been there for generations and the whole area can sometimes seem frozen in time. Unfortunately, times are often tough in Appalachia. Poverty is rampant, which is doubly sad because poverty was usually what drove these families there to begin with. The opioid epidemic is taking a huge toll on the area, although the problem started when miners with genuine chronic pain got hooked on prescription pain pills. The years have taken their toll on buildings and houses and many are slowly dilapidating into the ground giving many areas a “ghost town” like feel, but if you look closely you can see that this wasn’t always the case. There was a time that these buildings were brand new and that these communities were thriving. As the coal seams have dried up and mining has become more mechanized, there hasn’t been much industry to take its place. Many people have just picked up and moved away while others are fighting to stay. These areas are remote and hard to get to, despite the transportation links which once brought millions of tons of coal to market. Many of these communities across the region are aging and struggling and some have all but given up the ghost. In Kentucky’s Coal Country though, there are rays of light as these communities are trying to rediscover themselves and reinvent themselves and move boldly towards the future. While I have loved visiting communities across the region, it is those in southeast Kentucky which seem to be pushing the hardest for new ideas and change. While this entire region is deeply religious and many communities have just leaned back and put their faith in God, Kentucky’s towns seem to know that God helps those who help themselves. I was impressed with a lot of the efforts I saw in my time there and wanted to share some of those today.
Harland David Sanders, one of Kentucky’s most beloved and well known celebrities was actually not from Kentucky at all. He was born September 9th, 1890 in Henryville, Indiana. His father died when he was just 5 years old, and when his mother took a job at a tomato factory, Harland was left to watch his two younger siblings.
watch his two younger siblings.
He dropped out of school in the 7th Grade, and went to work as a farmhand. Leaving home at 13, Harland had many jobs over the years from a carriage painter to a streetcar conductor. He joined the army when he was just 16, and worked as a teamster in Cuba. He was honorably discharged before his 18th birthday, and went to live with his uncle in Alabama. He worked for the railroad for many years, and studied law at night through a correspondence course. He graduated and would practice law in Little Rock for several year…
Last week I was passing through the town of Berea, doing some research on something called the Day Law. The Day Law was passed in July 1904 and I found it interesting because it is the only example I can think of of a law that was passed to force segregation on a voluntarily integrated school. It was a tragic episode and one I hope to call attention to in my next podcast. While I was researching the story, I had a few questions I couldn’t seem to find the answer to, so I stopped by the Berea College Visitor’s Center to see if they could point me in the right direction. As it turned out, the young lady who was working there was a campus tour guide who not only could answer my specific question, but offered to take me on a tour of the campus as well. I’m really glad I took her up on it, because it was a truly fascinating and inspiring place and one I think we could all learn some lessons from.
Berea College was founded in 1855 by minister, educator and staunch abolitionist John Gregg Fee on land donated by fellow abolitionist Cassius Marcellus Clay (namesake of the Kentucky boxer better known by his Muslim name: Muhammed Ali). The college ran for its first few years out of a single building which was a classroom during the week and a church on Sunday. It was founded as the first racially integrated, coeducational college south of the Mason-Dixon line…
While all modern forms of music have roots somewhere, it’s always fascinating to trace them back and try and discover where they came from and how they evolved. The blues will take you back to Dockery Farms in Mississippi and jazz to Congo Square in New Orleans, although the influences of those music forms go back much further. Hip-hop got its start in New York City. Many would say Sun Studios in Memphis was where rock and roll was born, although I tend to think otherwise. Each genre tends to have its early influences and groundbreaking shifts which led to how we define them today. Bluegrass music really gained that definition in the mid 1940’s when Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt joined the already extant band The Bluegrass Boys. There is no doubt though that the man who brought them together and nurtured the evolution of the sound was the founder of that group and the undisputed Father of Bluegrass: Kentucky native Bill Monroe.
Bill Monroe was born in a small house on Pigeon Ridge in central Kentucky. That house was torn down and a new one built in its place when Bill was a kid…
I saw a great meme this week. It said the temperature went from 90 to 35 like it saw a state trooper on the highway. Isn’t that the truth? I don’t know about where you are, but in northern Kentucky I was sweating in shorts and a T-shirt last week, and this week nighttime temperatures are hovering just above freezing. It’s nice to be able to sleep with my blankets pulled up and my windows closed, but I sure was hoping for a little “in between” weather before winter set in. It’s been a good week out here as usual. I have moved into Western Kentucky and also into Central Time Zone. That makes my mornings easier and my evenings harder, but it’s also pretty cool. I used to blast through time zones like they were nothing when I was guiding cross-country tours. Now it’s more like a special occasion.
My week started where my last week ended (imagine that!), in Bardstown. Bardstown is a really lovely place. It has some really great historic buildings in the small downtown area and just has an overall pleasant feel to it. It’s also the center of the universe when it comes to bourbon, with several large distilleries and a lot of barrel houses in the area. They like to tell you that there are more barrels of bourbon aging in Kentucky than there are people living in the state…
Hillcrest Avenue in Louisville, Kentucky takes Halloween seriously. Very seriously. They have become known around town as the place to go to see Halloween decorations. I was really glad to get this tip and be able to go and photograph their wonderful displays. If you are travelling through Louisville between now and the end of the month, or you ever find yourself there in October, definitely head over to Hillcrest for a spooktacular time! Enjoy these photos from my visit!
The “new” Kentucky State Capitol Building was built in 1910 at a cost of just over a million dollars. Designed by Frank Mills Andrews in the Beaux-Arts style, the beautiful Capitol sits high above Kentucky’s capital city of Frankfort. All three branches of the Kentucky government are housed within the Capitol building. The Capitol features a magnificent rotunda and some wonderful statues and artwork throughout. Entrance and tours are free. I hope you enjoy my photos of the Kentucky State Capitol…
Starting in 1998, artist Scott Hagan set out to paint the Ohio Bicentennial logo on 88 historic barns, one in every county of the state. He completed the project in 2002 and when the bicentennial celebration began the following year, every county had its “Bicentennial Barn” proudly on display. You can still see many of these barns as you travel around the state today. Unfortunately I was only able to get these four photos in my travels around the Buckeye State, but every time I saw a Bicentennial Barn, it made me smile from ear to ear.
Ohio. The Buckeye State. A state it seems most people know very little about other than it’s out there in the middle somewhere. I’ve spent much of the summer in Ohio and come away with an intensely different opinion of it than I went in with. It’s a transition state – it connects the east to the west, the Great Lakes to the interior, the Midwest to Appalachia. It’s also a state steeped in history. In the years following the Civil War, it was the third most populous state in the country. During that time, seven of our presidents came out of Ohio, making them second only to Virginia in that regard. Besides presidents, Ohio has given us many legendary Americans. William Tecumseh Sherman, George Armstrong Custer, Thomas Edison, Neil Armstrong, Toni Morrison, Steven Spielberg, Jesse Owens and Cy Young are just a few Ohioans who come to mind who grew up to leave their mark on the country and the world. In the past, when someone told me they were from Ohio, it just passes out of my mind as somewhere in generic Middle America. I didn’t have strong feelings about it one way or the other so I would quickly move past it and forget it. I’m here to tell you I had the wrong idea about Ohio. After six solid weeks of traveling around the state I can tell you it’s a fascinating, welcoming, diverse state with tons to offer and a generally agreeable climate to offer it in. In my travels, I’ve come to think of it as “The Deep South of the Midwest” – a hidden gem and a crossroads which shouldn’t be overlooked.
Fall has definitely arrived here in Northern Ohio and I couldn’t be happier to see it. I am definitely a warm person and summer is always tough. When the weather gets cooler, I get cooler and I feel more comfortable and happier. I feel like I can wear nicer clothes because I’m not sweating through them and I become happier with how I am presenting myself. Shadow Catcher will be happier too. Although she handled really well through the summer, cooler weather is easier to deal with if you’re a van. I visited my first pumpkin farm of the season this week, just on general principle, and it definitely made me smile. The good apples will be out soon, and fresh cider is already in the stores. Soon, the leaves will start to change and I’m looking forward to the color changes and the photographic opportunities that come with it. I all but missed out on fall last year, so I’m really looking forward to it this year.
After we last met, I set off from Akron and headed south into Amish Country in Holmes County (see photos from the day HERE). On the way, I stopped by Nickajack Farms who were beginning their Fall Fest. I loved walking among the pumpkins and seeing all the Halloween stuff around. I bought a delicious fried pie and then got back on the road…